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Gospel Dates

Mark is probably the first gospel to be written, and most people think it’s written in the 60s or even as early as the early 70s.  That’s only a couple of generations after the events that it’s describing.  Some people get a bit worried about that and say isn’t that quite a long time, but actually, it’s not a huge amount of time.  I mean, we’re only talking about 30 or 40 years or so.  But that 30- or 40-year gap does give time for a lot of things to have happened, and it does mean that when people like Mark are writing their Gospels, they are filtering their story through events that have happened in their day.

So Mark is really, really interested in the Jewish temple, and that might show that he’s writing at a time when the temple is under threat or when the temple has been destroyed.  His telling of the story of Jesus keeps having for him these contemporary resonances.  Matthew and Luke probably a little later still.  They’re probably writing in the 80s or even as late as the 90s, and that means that you can just pick up again some concerns that are around later in the first century.

But at the same time, we must bear in mind that it isn’t that late.  And when you push into the second century, you do start seeing what much more fictional accounts, you know, totally fictional accounts look like.  And after you get into the second century, it’s harder to find anything that you can pin down and say, “Ah, this is a good bit of early Jesus history.”

  • Mark Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian origins in the Department of Religion at Duke University. His research interests include the synoptic Gospels, the historical Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas. Goodacre is editor of the Library of New Testament Studies book series and the author of four books including The Case Against Q (Trinity Press, 2002) and Thomas and the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2012).